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I'm lucky to be alive, says Bomet quarry survivor

By Gilbert Kimutai | Dec 29th 2020 | 3 min read

Police remove the body of Willy Kiplangat, 30, who died at Chepkositonik quarry in Bomet County on Tuesday. [Gilbert Kimutai, Standard]

When Tangus Philemon woke up on Tuesday morning to go mine sand, nothing had prepared him of what awaited him at a sand quarry in Chepkositonik, Bomet County. 

The 40-year-old stared at death when the walls of the pit they were digging caved in on them and he had to endure a two-hour wait for help he wasn’t sure was coming. 

He now says it was the longest wait in his life.

Tangus was rescued alongside a 14-year-old boy, his other colleague died.

"I am lucky to be alive after I was shielded by a stone from falling rubble when the walls of the quarry caved in," he said.

The duo, who looked weak and had bruises on their faces, hands and legs -were rushed to Tenwek Mission Hospital for treatment.

Tangus said the incident happened in a flash of a second.

"There is nothing we could do since it happened so fast and when we entered the quarry there was no sign of any fault lines but when we started digging it triggered tremors and it caved in," he said.

The third man- Willy Kiplangat, 30, was however killed by a pile of sand that caved in. 

His body was recovered from a pile of sand by the group of hurriedly mobilised amateur rescuers who dug through tonnes of sand to reach them.

County disaster management officer Stanley Mutai thanked the rescue team saying they worked hard and tirelessly to rescue them but unfortunately one of them had died.

“The team did a great job. They worked hard, with the limited equipment, they were determined to get all the three alive but unfortunately one of them died.” He told the Standard Digital.

Tonui said when weakened steep walls collapse in the midst of excavation, an accident is inevitable. “Hunger is what drives us into these sand mines. We earn peanuts here despite the risks we undergo. We excavate sand without safety helmets,” he said.

Kiplangat’s body was taken to the hospital’s mortuary.

The three are among hundreds of jobless youth who troop to Chepkositonik quarry, daily to make a living from the deadly sand mining business.

The job is complex and arduous and involves working in deep pits, equipped only with a shovel and crowbar, and no protective gear. It is a deadly occupation.

The three were buried alive at around 10 am when they were deep in the pits harvesting sand for construction.

Joseph Tonui, one of the residents, said the incident happened when the group has just started the day’s work.

He said some miners who were yet to enter into the quarry witnessed the incident and raised alarm.

“We are not sure the number of those who are trapped inside but we are told they are more than three people because they always wake up as early as 6:00 am to start work,” he told the standard on phone.

He added: “We are currently using hands and spades to dig up the rubble but we are hoping that a machine that can do it faster will be deployed,”

 Local government officials said the activities at the quarry were outlawed some years back but youth- in need of jobs still violate the law to earn a living.

Merigi Location chief Kiprono Langat regretted the incident but maintained that sand harvesting was illegal.

He said the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) closed the quarry in 2018 due to safety reasons.

"The three were illegally mining sand and unfortunately it collapsed on them and killed one," said the chief.

He said often youth in the area risk their lives even at night to mine sand which is on high demand in the area.

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